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Sunday, May 16, 2021

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Marjon Saulon Marjon Saulon

Four Things I Wish I Knew as an International Student

Marjon Saulon shares advice for incoming international students at SDSU.
By Marjon Saulon

Marjon Saulon is an international student and fourth-year comparative international studies major at San Diego State University.

Taking your first step onto campus during your freshman year in a new country can be a mixed bag of emotions.

One moment you feel the rush of adrenaline as you meet new people at the dorms, feeling the warmth of a firm handshake or a welcoming smile from professors and peers. The next moment, you could feel a gush of loneliness filling your stomach in despair, unsure of how to cope in an environment so alien to your senses—thousands of miles away from familiarity.

It’s not easy.

Though anyone who has traveled and moved away from home can relate to the feelings of loneliness that coincides with the exuberant thoughts of paving a new road to a professional career, international students have the actual task of flying over roads and bridges. Often, they find themselves in territory that feels a world apart.

I had big dreams when I first set foot in the United States three years ago, and SDSU has offered me an abundance of opportunities for which I am very grateful. My college experience has brought me academic and professional experiences that have taken me through the bustling streets of Downtown San Diego, America’s financial industry in Wall Street, and even the giant steps of the Great Wall of China.

For incoming international students, here are four things I wish I had known before I hopped onto a plane on a quest for meaning and growth in the warmth of San Diego:

1. Get involved on campus

It is so cliché. I know.

It may be terrifying at first, but I often talk to graduates and hear, “I should have gotten more involved in college,” or “I could have put more effort in meeting new people.”

During my third week in the United States, I decided to walk around Love Library during the student organization fair. As I collected what seemed to be my 100th student organization pamphlet, a table that was lined with international flags caught my eye. It was for AIESEC, a global leadership organization that specialized in cross-cultural exchange. Long story short, it allowed me to experience Atlanta’s best soul food, New York’s frosty winters and a group of friends that made me feel at home within the cultural pot of my identity.

I learned how to be a leader in a non-profit setting, and I gained mentors who have held leadership positions in Wall Street’s finest financial institution, UC San Diego’s graduate business school and one who has become a best-selling business author.

2. Time with family becomes increasingly rare

Prior to boarding the plane to LAX for my freshman year, my original flight had been cancelled on the day of my scheduled departure. I learned of the cancellation shortly after arriving at the airport and pleaded with my parents to find a way to reschedule my flight so that I could catch another flight that same day.

I had grown increasingly anxious during that summer in Taiwan and was ready for a grand adventure in my life. My family somehow was able to get me on a flight to LAX that same day, though, I had to take a train to Taipei. Soon enough, I scanned my ticket and entered the train station, turning one last time to watch my parents and brother wave goodbye as I boarded a train to uncertainty.

The following three summers, I spent two months, one month, and then one week in Taiwan with my family, in that order.

I wish I knew that as we continue to grow and tackle more responsibilities, quality time with family becomes a rarity. This holds true for many international students, who are torn between the choice of seeing family back home or taking advantage of career opportunities through work or summer internships.

The time I never regretted was when it was spent with family.

3. The United States truly is a welcoming country

The United States is dubbed a nation of nations for a reason. Its unique history and culture has opened the doors to people of all colors, religions and social classes from around the world. 

With the current political climate, it is understandable why some incoming international students are fearful of backlash or discrimination.

What I learned during my three years at SDSU is that people are welcoming and many times are impressed with the fact that we risk traveling across the world, often without family, in pursuit of an advanced education in the United States.

For example, during one of my job interviews, I had briefly talked about how my background had allowed me to intern at the Philippine Consulate in my hometown in Taiwan. I emphasized the difficulties I faced and how I had learned to overcome them. I was confident in the qualities that made me unique not only as a professional, but as a person.

“We really liked your global perspective, and we thought you would add a lot of value to our team, helping balance us out with your diverse background,” my supervisor would tell me months later after I was hired.

I had always been worried that my foreign background would be a hindrance to my pursuit of professional working opportunities. What I learned is that it is just a matter of perspective, hard work and confidence in conveying and shaping your story.

4. Be fearless in pursuit of your dreams, while keeping an open mind

When I first landed in the United States, I witnessed the beautiful sights of Southern California’s palm trees and its earth-tone palette sunsets. I came to college as a business major, thinking money was going to be an asset that would bring me satisfaction in life. I dreamed of being president of a student organization, graduating with honors, working for a prestigious company, and most importantly, making my parents proud. I wrote these goals down and stored it away, hoping that writing them would ease the doubtful thoughts I had also harbored. They all came true, in some shape or form.

I soon found out that business was not my calling. Instead, government, politics and social justice became my passion. After two straight failed interviews and an internship in City Hall, I got a breakthrough to work at the San Diego District Attorney’s Office. I was able to lead a student organization that created leadership volunteer opportunities in which students from San Diego taught English and empowered orphans in the outskirts of Thailand. Now, I get to help my own people at the Philippine Consulate in Downtown San Diego.

I learned that dreaming big really isn’t a cheesy cliché. It has progressively grown into a reality through failure, setbacks and constant belief I had envisioned on my first flight to the United States.

So go ahead and dream up of a life you envision having here before your first day of college. Do something extraordinary. Empower yourself. Keep in touch with family. Understand culture and society. Write down goals. Chances are, many of them will come true if you try hard enough.

For more blog posts from SDSU students studying abroad this summer, visit the SDSU Be International blog.